The last nine games have been the Tampa Bay Rays’ worst nightmare. They have gone just 1-8, dropping from just one game behind the Boston Red Sox to 5.5 back and from a virtual postseason certainty into a team may just get passed if it doesn’t right itself quickly. The good news is that the Rays have 26 games to prove that this latest streak is just a bump in the road and not the start of a catatrophic collapse. But can they do it? Let’s look back at teams in similar situations over the course of baseball history and see how they have done.
Since 1886, there have been 85 teams that have gone 1-8 from Game 128 to Game 136 in their season. Just 14 of them finished within 15 games of .500. The list is confined mostly to teams confined to the basements of their divisions or pretty close to it. But there are eight teams that began the streak between 10 and 25 games over .500. How did they finish? Let’s find out.
1936 Cleveland Indians: The Indians were 69-55 after 126 games, second to the Yankees in the American League, but they then won just 3 of their next 16 games. They went 8-6-1 in their final 15 games, but they finished just 80-74, 5th in the AL. (That’s an 84-win pace in 162 games.)
1974 Boston Red Sox: The Red Sox were 71-56 after 127 games, up 5.5 games in the AL East. But they then won just 1 of their next 10 games, dropping to 1.5 games back, They never really got on track the rest of the season, finishing just 12-13 and ending up third in the AL East at 84-78.
1983 Atlanta Braves: The Braves were 75-53 after 126 games, 1.5 games up in the AL West. But after losing 8 of their next 9 games, they dropped to 2.5 games back. From there, they went 12-14, finishing 88-74, second in the division. Had there been a wild card, they would have been it.
1988 Detroit Tigers: The Tigers were 74-53 after 127 games, up 2 games in the AL East. However, going 2-14 in their next 16 games and 5-18 in their next 23 appeared to effectively drop them from contention as they sat 6 games back after the latter stretch. The Tigers, though, had other ideas, going 9-3 in their last 12 games and closing within one game of the AL East crown. They finished 88-74 (they would have been second in the Wild Card).
1995 California Angels: The Angels were 72-56 after 128 games in 1995 and were running away with the AL West, up 6 games over the Seattle Mariners. However, they proceeded to lose their next 9 games to fall 2 games back. The Angels went 6-2 in their final 8 games (remember, it was a strike-shortened season), but one of those losses was to the Mariners in the one-game playoff for the AL West crown. The Angels finished 78-67 (1.5 games back for the wild card), which is an 87-win pace for 162 games.
2007 Seattle Mariners: This time it was the Mariners that were collapsing, not roaring back. The M’s were 73-55 after 126 games, just a game back in the AL West, but they lost their next 9 games and 15 of their next 17, dropping 9.5 games back. They rebounded to go 13-6 in their final 19 games, but at 88-74, they were still 6 games back in the AL West.
2010 San Diego Padres: In the most recent example, the Padres were another team running away with their division, up 6.5 games in the NL West after 125 games at 76-49. But after they lost their next 10 games, that lead was down to just a game over the San Francisco Giants. They finished 14-13 in their last 27 games, losing to the Giants on the last day of the season to miss out on the playoffs. They finished 90-72, two games back in their division and one game back of the wild card.
One thing becomes obvious from the list: the Rays are going to start winning games again, at least getting back to a near-.500 pace. But after a stretch like this, only three of the eight teams managed to finish at least 3 games above .500 to close out the season (and that includes the Angels in just 8 games), and the Rays will have to do that if they really want to make the postseason. Based on baseball history, it seems likely that the Rays will win at least 88 games on the year. Will that be enough? With teams like the Yankees coming on strong, it’s going to be very close, and far too nerve-racking for a team this talented. We have to hope that the Rays can follow the example of teams like the ’07 Mariners and ’88 Tigers to finish the season on a high note from here and secure their place in the posteason.
The good news is that the Rays have Matt Moore coming back tonight and Jeremy Hellickson and Jesse Crain returning at some point as well. The Rays have three pitchers coming back that all those other teams wish they had, plus they have hitters like Evan Longoria and Wil Myers who have to break out of their slumps. Can the Rays find their way above the 88 baseline wins in this group and rebound from their disastrous stretch to finish with a hot streak just as incisive as their slump?